The crisis exploded on the highest of Rome’s hills, between the evening of Sunday 28 May and the following afternoon. The trigger was a sequence of three choices.
First, the president of the republic refused to appoint as finance minister the person chosen by the two political parties that prepared to take office, the League and the Five Star Movement (M5S).
Second, the latter reacted by refusing to form a government.
Third, the president granted to a technocrat the mandate to form a non-partisan, transition government and prepare for early elections, no later than early 2019.
That day the interest-rate spread between Italian and German bonds recorded its largest single-day rise since the euro was created. The ripples quickly traversed Europe and crossed the Atlantic.
Many commentators have argued that the president’s choices wounded Italy’s democracy and were damaging or counterproductive (e.g., Jan Zielonka, most interestingly, and, more radically, Yanis Varoufakis; and, on Twitter, in alphabetic order, Paul Krugman, Branko Milanovic, Ann Pettifor, Helen Thompson). I disagree with the first argument and partly also with the second.
Before I turn to the substance, I would like to remove one set of issues from the table. The commentators I chose to cite, among many possible ones, are all far removed from the political allies of the League, who cried ‘coup d’état!’ (Marine Le Pen). Their democratic credentials are impeccable, to my eyes, and their motives unimpeachable.